Iain Ball’s Rare Earth Sculptures Connect Viewers with Creative Energy

“Energy Pangea”—the name might sound like a dance club, but it actually summons the earth-powered philosophy of Iain Ball’s ongoing project. Its latest mutation, an exhibition called “Terbium Energy Catalyst / Solar Maximum / Hybrid Synergy Drive,” is currently on display at Future Gallery in Berlin.

  • Installation view of “Terbium Energy Catalyst / Solar Maximum / Hybrid Synergy Drive.” Courtesy of Future Gallery and the artist. 

    Installation view of “Terbium Energy Catalyst / Solar Maximum / Hybrid Synergy Drive.” Courtesy of Future Gallery and the artist. 

The 30-year-old British artist plays with the lexicon of New Age philosophy, high-tech car marketing, and the information society, plugging his sculptural production into the wide-ranging discourse surrounding contemporary capitalism. For this Berlin iteration, Ball set his sculptures to the vibrations of sound, collaborating with the psytrance music producer Goch and the digital label Quantum Natives.

  • Installation view of Neodymium (2011/2015) in “Terbium Energy Catalyst / Solar Maximum / Hybrid Synergy Drive.” Courtesy of Future Gallery and the artist. 

    Installation view of Neodymium (2011/2015) in “Terbium Energy Catalyst / Solar Maximum / Hybrid Synergy Drive.” Courtesy of Future Gallery and the artist. 

Ball’s “Rare Earth Sculptures”—which make up the Future Gallery presentation and are inspired by the organic elements mined for use in computer chips, smartphones, and drones—are just as experimental as their speculative framing. Neodymium (2011/15), named for a mineral incorporated into magnets and mirrors, is a glass-and-wood terrarium housing a bearded dragon lizard that, during Goch’s live performance at the opening, was hiding inside one its tunnels. Also contained in the tank are a piece of driftwood, a halogen lamp, and a revolving metal structure studded with crystals in the shape of a Maitreya solar cross, a symbol of sacred geometry.

  • Detail of Neodymium (2011/2015). Courtesy of Future Gallery and the artist. 

    Detail of Neodymium (2011/2015). Courtesy of Future Gallery and the artist. 

If the artist takes these New Age phenomena somewhat with a pinch of salt, a focus on the interconnectedness of things is of the utmost importance. Ball’s work is also influenced by object-oriented philosophy, such as Timothy Morton’s theories of “dark ecology” and “hyperobjects.” The artist considers all of his sculptures to be networked, reflecting relationships between the world and its organisms: from rare-earth elements to the electronics that depend on such minerals to the place of humans within the environment. Lanthanum (2014), for example, which resembles an inflatable toy covered with scribbles, contains the element used in the batteries that fuel Toyota’s hybrid car.

In the gallery’s side room, the chemical element Terbium, used in electronic sensors, provides source material for two works. (RES) Terbium Dark Psy Energy Pack (2015) consists of a hydration backpack hung on a large red psychedelic digital print, derived from the conspiracy website Eden Saga. The centerpiece, Terbium (2015), is a three-legged sculpture set in a square of red water, with mauve strata and a lump of grey earth balancing on top. These are sculptural visualizations of our digital-physical reality, where rare minerals are excavated for the sake of innovation. The visual result is a kind of perverted Zen.


—Hannah Gregory

“Terbium Energy Catalyst / Solar Maximum / Hybrid Synergy Drive” is on view at Future Gallery, Berlin, July 4th–August 1st, 2015.

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